Original sauce: John Burgess & Son of the Strand

Burgess’ Essence of Anchovies was introduced in 1775, and was the first branded sauce to enjoy a nationwide reputation in Britain. Burgess sauce is still sold.

John Burgess introduces Essence of Anchovies
John Burgess (1750 – 1820) was born in Odiham, Hampshire, the son of an affluent grocer. Burgess served an apprenticeship in London before he established his own premises at No. 101, the Strand by 1774. Burgess held the profession of “Italian warehouseman”, meaning he sold imported speciality foods such as hams and olive oil.

Burgess developed his reputation due to his keen business skills and his honesty. Growing trade saw the business relocate to larger premises at No. 107 the Strand from 1779.

A bottle of Essence of Anchovies from 1911. Image used with kind permission from the Museum of Transport and Technology.

Burgess introduced his Essence of Anchovies in 1775, and it was his best known product by 1788. The recipe was simple: anchovies were crushed, mixed with water and gently heated. Spices may have been added, and the sauce was strained.

His was the original Essence of Anchovies, but it inspired imitations from the likes of Elizabeth Lazenby, who began to sell her anchovy-based sauce from 1793.

His only son, William Robert Burgess (1778 – 1853), entered into an equal partnership with his father from 1800, and the firm became known as John Burgess & Son.

Burgess products were onboard Admiral’s Nelson’s HMS Victory in 1805. Lord Byron referenced Burgess’s fish sauce in his poem Beppo (1817). The novelist Walter Scott claimed that Burgess made the best fish sauce in 1823.

The second and third generation take control of the business
John Burgess died in 1820, and William Robert Burgess became sole proprietor.

By the early 1850s, due to public demand, Essence of Anchovies was adulterated with Armenian bole, an iron-rich clay, to imbue the sauce with a bright red colour. This was the standard industry practice at the time.

By the 1850s Lazenby and Crosse & Blackwell were encroaching upon Burgess’s market share with lower-priced imitations of Essence of Anchovies. W R Burgess stubbornly announced that the only change to Essence of Anchovies production that he would allow would be that twelve days pounding of fish by two men could be altered to six days pounding by four.

After the death of W R Burgess, the business was taken over by his wife, Elizabeth (1804 – 1884) and his son, Arthur Wellington Burgess (1840 – 1900).

A fire broke out at the firm’s pickling vaults and storehouses on the Strand in 1869. A large quantity of olive oil was destroyed.

Arthur Wellington Burgess was declared bankrupt in 1870, and the business was taken over by his mother and his sisters, Mary Ann Burgess and Louisa Elizabeth Burgess.

The Brooks family acquire control of John Burgess & Son
The business was acquired by the Brooks family, relatives of the Burgesses, in 1874.

John Burgess & Son was incorporated as a limited company in 1901.

The company relocated its manufacturing and offices to Hythe Road, Willesden in 1908.

The company was appointed purveyors to George V in 1911. That same year, Robert Falcon Scott took several bottles of Burgess’ Essence of Anchovies with him to the Antarctic.

The shop on the Strand was closed in 1914.

A Burgess gravy browning bottle from the mid 1990s

A takeover offer from George Mason & Co, the manufacturer of OK Sauce, was rejected in 1928.

The Willesden factory was damaged by German bombs in 1940.

John Burgess & Son is acquired by Rayner & Co
Rayner & Co acquired John Burgess & Son from the company directors, who were the sole shareholders, in 1954. Company operations were relocated to Edmonton, North London in 1960.

Burgess creamed horseradish was launched in 1960, following three years of research.

Rayner & Co had sales of just under £2 million in 1971. Burgess creamed horseradish was by now its leading product, a market leader in its field with sales of £100,000 a year. Sales of Essence of Anchovies had steadily declined from their Victorian heyday. Rayner & Burgess was established to jointly handle the increasing sales of both companies in 1972.

Burgess creamed horseradish was still available as late as 1993. It was a premium product.

Essence of Anchovies was still being produced as late as 1999. Latterly, its fans had included the celebrity chef Simon Hopkinson.

Rayner Burgess entered into liquidation in 2007. The Burgess brand was acquired by Greencore, a large Irish foods company. Burgess pickles and sauces continued to be sold as late as 2016. Burgess Gravy Browning is still produced for the catering trade and Asian export markets.

2 thoughts on “Original sauce: John Burgess & Son of the Strand”

  1. Really enjoying your posts! Came across your website after clearing out my Mum’s kitchen and finding an unopened 6.5fl oz bottle of Burgess Gravy Browning with immaculate label. The best before date is Jan 98. It has a free recipe card offer – send an s.a.e. to John Burgess & Son Ltd, 4 Bull Lane, Edmonton, London N18 1TQ. If anyone wishes to have this bottle, let me know! I’ll keep it for another week, then I’m afraid the contents will be donated to the garden and the bottle to the green bin. 🙂

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